Hawaii efforts target active senior travelers
AARP is operating escorted group tours that includes stops on Kauai, Maui and Oahu
Group travel providers in Hawaii have begun to step up efforts to target senior visitors, who with plenty of disposable income and leisure time provide an increasingly lucrative customer base.
The Travel Boom
These are some travel facts from a 2005 survey of 1,594 baby boomers between ages 41 and 59:
Braver: Most boomers consider themselves adventurous (55 percent) and 77 percent consider their own travel experiences more adventurous than their parents.
Prepared: A greater percentage of boomers today have a passport (10 percent in 1985 versus 28 percent in 2005) than 20 years ago when they were ages 21 to 39.
Spending: The average boomer spent $1,155 on leisure travel in 2004.
"Today's seniors aren't those of yesteryear," said Keith Vieira, vice president and director of Hawaii operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide
. "These are people who think they are 10 to 15 years younger and act it. They still play golf but a lot of them scuba dive, too."
Vieira, who turned 50 this week and got invited to join AARP, said folks his age and older are an increasingly important part of Hawaii's core travel market. Organizations like AARP and Tauck Tours, who report that Hawaii is a top destination among customers, have started a variety of new group travel products keyed to the senior market. But because no other group has as much discretionary income and leisure time, many other travel providers are eyeing this market as well.
"Many of the baby boomers are into adventure and this bodes well for Hawaii," he said. "They don't just want to come here and lie on the beach. They want to really experience the uniqueness of the destination."
The senior travel market "is absolutely huge" and getting larger as baby boomers begin to age, said Barbara Hvasta, vice president of travel programs for AARP Services, the commercial arm of AARP.
"Every seven seconds someone turns 50," Hvasta said. In 2004, baby boomers, which number 78 million, spent $157 billion on leisure travel, an increase of 25 percent over 2003 spending levels.
Visa USA recently reported that travel tops the list of things that baby boomers want to do, Hvasta said.
But despite their adventuresome attitude, when it comes to planning a major trip, many 50+ aged travelers prefer to travel via escorted tour, AARP senior research and member feedback shows.
"These aren't the kind of structured tours of the past when you got on a tour bus and Tuesday meant you were in Paris," Hvasta said. "They are searching for a more experiential tour."
As a result, AARP has developed a 2006 group tour that offers members the chance to experience all of the culture and adventure a destination can offer, she said.
The AARP-member escorted tour to Hawaii includes stops in Kauai, Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Kaanapali Beach, Iao Needle and Kahului, where travelers can listen to lectures on local culture, visit a coffee estate or cruise down the Waialua River.
"Hawaii makes the list of the top-five most adventurous destinations that boomers want to visit," Hvasta said. The Aloha State comes in No. 4 behind Las Vegas, Florida and New York respectively. The No. 5 destination was Colorado.
Hawaii is also the key destination for Connecticut-based Tauck Tours, said Vieira, whose Starwood properties often partner with the package operator.
Senior and baby boomer travelers are on everyone's radar, said Peter Jenkins, vice president of sales for Outrigger Enterprises Inc.
"That's where all the time and money is," Jenkins said. "Without question, this group will be more lucrative in the future."
While Hawaii is a popular senior and baby boomer pick, it's questionable whether it's ever going to be a top escorted-tour destination, said Ken Phillips of Pleasant Holidays LLC, one of Hawaii's largest travel wholesalers.
"We're seeing escorted tours becoming more popular in other destinations, but for us, they are declining in Hawaii," Phillips said.
Hawaii's reputation as a safe destination works against the escorted tour market, he said. Also, Hawaii's high rate of repeat travelers makes it familiar destination that is easy for free and independent travelers to navigate, Phillips said.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority has begun developing events that appeal to the active senior and baby boomer markets, said Frank Haas, marketing director for the state agency.
The Hawaii Arts Season, which began last month and runs through spring, is just one vehicle designed to appeal to this demographic, Haas said.
The senior and baby-boomer market offers a chance for Hawaii to further diversify its tourism mix and boost spending, he said.
"We are already running at 7.4 million visitors so we aren't looking to increase arrivals," Haas said. "We need to increase spending and one of the best ways to do that is to increase the percentage of active visitors that come to this state."